Tuesday, November 16, 2010

For the Fellow Face-Planters

While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
On hearing this, Jesus said to them,
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Mark 2:15-17

I spend the majority of my life on my face. Unfortunately, I am not here referring to the sacred act of prayer. I am speaking of the kind of "on your face living" that involves a swift fall greeted by an unforgiving surface. If I were a runner, I would be more familiar with the smell of the track than the feeling of the finish line. In my life I have come to see that I fall, and then I fall again. I do not record these things to encourage self-deprecation or even to promote myself through some form of feigned humility. I just desperately want to be honest with myself. The "believe in yourself" messages have never held much weight with me because, well, I have never seen much to believe
in. And what I intend to write on tonight is not the mundane moral tale of how even the most successful of men have failed plenty of times. I do not intend on finding you statistics on how many baskets Michael Jordan missed or how many times Edison got the light bulb wrong. In fact, I want to avoid such things because I think this type of rhetoric is fundamentally missing the point.

I have learned to find great contentment in my overwhelming failure. As I read Mark 2, I cannot avoid basking in the great grace Jesus offers face-planters like me. Rather than attempt to conjure up some kind of "pull myself up from my bootstraps" mentality, or shut my eyes tight and start naming and claiming things, I would rather be honest with my sickness. If my time on the cold hard track of life's difficulties has taught me anything, it is this: I am hopelessly and desperately sick. I am thankful for the grace God has granted me that I might own up to this sickness. Because news that transcends any earthly success is waiting for me with open arms--- There is a Great Physician and He is good at what He does. Oh how thankful I am that Jesus did not come to call the religious! For I am not very religious. Oh how thankful I am that Jesus did not come to call the healthy! For I am terminally ill. But my life is not defined by my success or even my failure. My life is defined by the Great Physician who uses every bit of my short-coming to shine through His glory all the clearer. Every time that I fall is an opportunity for Him to pick me back up, force down the stones, and tell my tired heart: "Go now and sin no more." He never tires of doing this for His son. In fact, He delights in it! And every time I rise, I run a few feet farther than the last.

Here is what I know. I will never be self-reliant. I will never live a life of jaw-dropping success in the eyes of this world. No naming or claiming of any sort on my end will ever keep me on my feet. Though, even if I could, I am not sure I would want to be there. For it was on my face where I saw my sickness. It was on my face where I
could do nothing but call out for The Physician. It is on my face where I can join with Paul and "boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me." It is on my face where I find the joy in a life defined by this poem:
He came to my desk with a quivering lip, the lesson was done. “Have you a new sheet for me, dear teacher? I’ve spoiled this one.” I took his sheet, all soiled and blotted, And gave him a new one all unspotted. And into his tired heart I cried, “Do better now, my child.”
I went to the throne with a trembling heart, the day was done. “Have you a new day for me, dear Master? I’ve spoiled this one.” He took my day, all soiled and blotted, and gave me a new one all unspotted. And into my tired heart he cried, “Do better now, my child.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Lord, to whom shall we go?

60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”  61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you?...
 66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
   67 “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.
 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.” - John 6:60-61, 66-69

I have had a brutal meeting the last few weeks with the messy reality of incomplete sanctification. If I'm being honest, I felt something like an obese hot-dog enthusiast attempting a triathlon for the first time. This feeling is certainly not anything new, and it's times like these that make approaching the many difficult teachings of Jesus disheartening at best. Though many current popular teachers would rather itch ears than be honest, the teachings of Jesus can be flat out hard. Anyone who has taken a serious look at what Jesus demands in terms of holiness is no stranger to this truth.

In light of this, I spent some time meditating on just how far I fall short as a son, a student, a man, a leader, and a child of the King. On one particular evening, walking back to my dorm across campus in the chilly and quiet night, I found myself praying out loud, "Lord, where else am I going to go?" Confronted with the harsh reality of my lingering depravity, the temptation for me is to flee. I want to run away and find some way to fix everything and please my Father. But as I took a long hard look around, I realized that I don't have anywhere to run to. It's important to note that my so called "meditation sessions" usually involve excess amounts of condemnation. In fact, my heart is an expert condemner. I found myself like Paul in Romans chapter seven proclaiming, "who will free me from this body of death?"

I'm thankful that the Word does not stop short of real answers to these complex problems. My heart may be an expert condemner but John reminds me in his epistle that, "God is greater than our hearts." I may inhabit a body of death but with Paul I rejoice and thank God who "delivers me through Jesus Christ," my Lord. It didn't take me long to remember that the answer was not to run but to fall. My place is ever only at the feet of King Jesus in humble submission. Like Peter, I realized, "To whom shall [I] go?" I was reminded that He was the anecdote, His mercy: the cure. He has "the words of eternal life." The only thing this broken sinner, thirsty for holiness, really needed was, "the Holy one of God." Like Peter, I realized I have nowhere else to run. Like Peter, I realized what I was looking for all along was ever only in the person of Christ.

What hard teaching has left you disheartened? What failure is causing you to take off? When you find yourself tempted to flee, just ask: "Where else am I going to go?" The answer will always lead you to His feet.